Late Tuesday night, ESPN released its updated NBA mock draft for 2019, and a couple of key Kentucky Wildcats are working their way into first-round territory.
The new mock draft projects Keldon Johnson as the No. 12 overall pick and PJ Washington at No. 17, but both of those UK players have long been expected to jump to the NBA after this season.
Freshman guards Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro will have more interesting decisions to make this spring, and both Cats moved up several spots in ESPN’s latest mock draft.
Herro is now projected as the No. 32 overall pick in this year’s draft, just two spots outside of the first round. Herro’s improved defense over the past few weeks was cited as one of the reasons for his rise, and ESPN’s Jonathan Givony said that more consistency offensively could elevate the UK freshman into sure first-round territory.
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“He could also look at how much a second season in college benefited his teammate PJ Washington and decide to try to make a run at the lottery in 2020,” Givony wrote, offering an alternate path that would surely benefit UK next season.
Hagans is now listed as the No. 38 pick in ESPN’s mock draft, putting him toward the top of the second round and five spots higher than his most recent standing on ESPN’s list of the top prospects for this year’s draft. Hagans, who turns 20 years old in August, is actually older than both Johnson and Herro, despite reclassifying from 2019 to 2018 last summer.
If both Hagans and Herro were to leave UK after this season, the Cats would almost certainly have to add another backcourt player to their incoming recruiting class. The departures of those two players, plus Johnson, would leave just two returning contributors at the guard spots — Immanuel Quickley and Jemarl Baker — to go with incoming point guard Tyrese Maxey and incoming wings Kahlil Whitney, who might have to play some in the frontcourt, and Dontaie Allen, who underwent surgery for a torn ACL and torn meniscus last month and is no guarantee to be 100 percent by the start of next season.
UK missed out on five-star shooting guard Anthony Edwards, who committed to Georgia on Monday morning, and the Cats have not extended scholarship offers to any other guards in the 2019 class. If UK does add another player at that position for next season, it would likely have to be a graduate transfer or a recruit who decides to reclassify from 2020.